Controlling the News
Washington, D.C., August 15, 2013: “Although it is not talked about in public, the Obama administration is more that frightened about just what secret material Edward Snowden managed to locate and remove. No one knows just what he took and he has admitted that he took a job with a government-contractor solely for the purpose of locating and extracting material that would reflect extensive domestic spying. There is also the growing fear that Snowden managed to locate material that, if released in public, would do terrible damage to American prestige in foreign countries. One episode of recent Intelligence history concerns the humped up “assassination” of Osama bin Laden. Press releases would have it that bin Laden, once a CIA employee was gunned down in Pakistan but it is known that he died of renal failure in a Pakistan military hospital in 2003 and that the CIA was putting on a circus show with badly faked “bin Laden tapes,” filmed in Texas with an Arab-speaking actor. American spying on her purported allies, highly undue Israeli influence in Washington, the covering up of the immense mortgage scandals and other items of unpleastness are also being spoken of by people who are in a position to know what they are talking about. No wonder the word is out that the CIA is trying to get a Russian hit man to kill Snowden!
Snowden suspected of bypassing electronic logs
August 24 2013
by Kimberly Dozier
WASHINGTON (AP) â” The U.S. government’s efforts to determine which highly classified materials leaker Edward Snowden took from the National Security Agency have been frustrated by Snowden’s sophisticated efforts to cover his digital trail by deleting or bypassing electronic logs, government officials told The Associated Press. Such logs would have showed what information Snowden viewed or downloaded.
The government’s forensic investigation is wrestling with Snowden’s apparent ability to defeat safeguards established to monitor and deter people looking at information without proper permission, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the sensitive developments publicly.
The disclosure undermines the Obama administration’s assurances to Congress and the public that the NSA surveillance programs can’t be abused because its spying systems are so aggressively monitored and audited for oversight purposes: If Snowden could defeat the NSA’s own tripwires and internal burglar alarms, how many other employees or contractors could do the same?
In July, nearly two months after Snowden’s earliest disclosures, NSA Director Keith Alexander declined to say whether he had a good idea of what Snowden had downloaded or how many NSA files Snowden had taken with him, noting an ongoing criminal investigation.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told the AP that Alexander “had a sense of what documents and information had been taken,” but “he did not say the comprehensive investigation had been completed.” Vines would not say whether Snowden had found a way to view and download the documents he took without the NSA knowing.
In defending the NSA surveillance programs that Snowden revealed, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told Congress last month that the administration effectively monitors the activities of employees using them.
“This program goes under careful audit,” Cole said. “Everything that is done under it is documented and reviewed before the decision is made and reviewed again after these decisions are made to make sure that nobody has done the things that you’re concerned about happening.”
The disclosure of Snowden’s hacking prowess inside the NSA also could dramatically increase the perceived value of his knowledge to foreign governments, which would presumably be eager to learn any counter-detection techniques that could be exploited against U.S. government networks.
It also helps explain the recent seizure in Britain of digital files belonging to David Miranda â” the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald â” in an effort to help quantify Snowden’s leak of classified material to the Guardian newspaper. Authorities there stopped Miranda last weekend as he changed planes at Heathrow Airport while returning home to Brazil from Germany, where Miranda had met with Laura Poitras, a U.S. filmmaker who has worked with Greenwald on the NSA story.
Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence contractor, was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii before leaking classified documents to the Guardian and The Washington Post. As a system administrator, Snowden had the ability to move around data and had access to thumb drives that would have allowed him to transfer information to computers outside the NSA’s secure system, Alexander has said.
In his job, Snowden purloined many files, including ones that detailed the U.S. government’s programs to collect the metadata of phone calls of U.S. citizens and copy Internet traffic as it enters and leaves the U.S., then routes it to the NSA for analysis.
Officials have said Snowden had access to many documents but didn’t know necessarily how the programs functioned. He dipped into compartmentalized files as systems administrator and took what he wanted. He managed to do so for months without getting caught. In May, he flew to Hong Kong and eventually made his way to Russia, where that government has granted him asylum.
NBC News reported Thursday that the NSA was “overwhelmed” in trying to figure what Snowden had stolen and didn’t know everything he had downloaded.
Insider threats have troubled the administration and Congress, particularly in the wake of Bradley Manning, a young soldier who decided to leak hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents in late 2009 and early 2010.
Congress had wanted to address the insider threat problem in the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, but the White House asked for the language to be removed because of concerns about successfully meeting a deadline. In the 2013 version, Congress included language urging the creation of an automated, insider-threat detection program.
Countrywide: Subprime Kings
Many factors combined to create the current housing crisis in the United States.
Low interest rates after the 2001 stock market crash spurred the housing boom. Housing prices skyrocketed above historic trendlines. People were duped into thinking prices would rise forever, but it was inevitable that the housing bubble would burst, and houses would suddenly be worth a lot less. With house prices falling, lots of people are now finding they owe more than their house is worth. This problem is exacerbated by predatory loan arrangements that have left millions facing suddenly rising mortgage payments.
A lot of people and corporations deserve blame for this state of affairs.
Instead of warning consumers about the housing bubble – which would have gone a long way to counter the excessive price run-ups – then-Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan denied a bubble was occurring.
Wall Street firms created exotic investment instruments that made possible the purchase and trading of large numbers of mortgages. This created conditions so that banks and initial lenders took less care in issuing mortgages – since they wouldn’t be responsible for mortgages gone bad. The Wall Street firms not only sold these instruments to duped investors, they took on major liabilities on their own – even though it was obvious the housing bubble would have to burst.
Rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, which evaluated the riskiness of these new mortgage investment instruments, failed utterly. The housing bubble meant mortgage investments were sure to lose money, but the ratings agencies gave them top ratings anyway. Along with the “innovation” of the Wall Street firms, the ratings agencies helped maintain a market that dramatically exacerbated, and to a considerable degree may have created, the housing bubble.
Financial bubbles create an incentive for criminal and shady activity. Just like the stock bubble of the late 1990s created the climate for Enron and dozens of other companies to cook their books, the housing bubble created incentives for predatory lenders to exploit consumers.
The predatory lenders offered low rates, at least at first. Rates would rise later, but the lenders said that – because home prices were rising so fast and would continue to do so – borrowers could always refinance with a new loan.
The biggest of the predatory lenders was Countrywide, a mortgage lender acquired by Bank of America in January 2008. The company and its CEO, Angelo Mozilo, made a bundle, while setting up thousands and thousands of families for financial ruin.
In 2008, Bank of America purchased the failing Countrywide Financial for $4.1 billion. Bank of America Home Loans is the mortgage unit of Bank of America. Bank of America Home Loans is composed of:
Mortgage Banking, which originates, purchases, securitizes, and services mortgages. In 2006 Countrywide financed 20% of all mortgages in the United States, at a value of about 3.5% of United States GDP, a proportion greater than any other single mortgage lender.
“Over the past few years,” says Martin Eakes of the Center for Responsible Lending, “by steering millions of people into bad loans, Countrywide has been the largest rogue mortgage lender in the country. According to Countrywide’s own data, more than 80 percent of its exotic adjustable-rate loans were made to borrowers that do not meet current banking standards. Countrywide knew that these homeowners would not be able to make their monthly loan payments after dramatic payment increases became effective.”
The Center for Responsible Lending has compiled a dossier on Countrywide’s irresponsible practices, presented in a report, “Unfair and Unsafe.” Its devastating report, based on customer complaints, lawsuits, regulatory actions, news accounts, government reports and company documents, shows how Countrywide engaged in rampant wrongdoing:
Predatory lending. “Lawsuits filed around the country have accused Countrywide of preying on borrowers through a variety of unfair and fraudulent tactics that have siphoned equity out of their homes and pushed many into foreclosure,” notes “Unfair and Unsafe.” “Borrowers and regulators have accused the company of: steering borrowers with good credit into higher-cost ‘subprime’ loans; gouging minority borrowers with discriminatory rates and fees; working in cahoots with mortgage brokers who use bait-and-switch tactics to land borrowers into loans they can’t afford; targeting elderly, black hispanic and other non-English-speaking borrowers for abusive loans; and packing loans with inflated and unauthorized fees.”
In one lawsuit, Albert Zacholl, a 74-year-old man living in Southern California, alleges that Countrywide and a pair of mortgage brokers “cold-called and aggressively baited” him. They promised him $30,000 cash, a mortgage that would replace his previous mortgage (which was leaving him owing more each month) and a monthly payment that would not exceed $1,700. Zacholl told the brokers that his income consisted of a pension of $350 a month and Social Security payments of $958, and that with help from his son, he could afford a mortgage up to $1,700. According to the lawsuit, the broker falsified his loan application by putting down an income of $7,000 a month, and then arranged for a high-interest mortgage that required him to pay more than $3,000 a month (and failed to deliver the $30,000 cash payment). The motivation for the scam, according to the lawsuit, was to collect $13,000 in fees.
In court papers, the Center for Responsible Lending reports, Countrywide responded that Zacholl “consented to the terms of the transaction” and that any problems were the result of his own “negligence and carelessness.”
Countrywide has been a leader in pushing unsound mortgage terms. These include “exploding” subprime adjustable rate mortgages – with reasonable interest rates in the first year that jump in subsequent years, often by as much as 30 percent to 50 percent.
Conflicts of interest.
“Countrywide has created a corporate structure designed to allow its subsidiaries to work hand-in-hand in squeezing borrowers with excessive fees and penalties,” according to “Unfair and Unsafe.” Countrywide affiliates handle appraisals, credit reports, flood certifications and other documentation for new loans; provide “force-placing” insurance for borrowers whose homeowners insurance has lapsed; and serve as a foreclosure trustee. The interconnections enable Countrywide to charge high fees, and deny borrowers the benefit of third parties’ independent judgment and independent interests.
Broken promises on loan modifications.
The company has a history of failing to fully live up to its promises to help borrowers keep their homes by modifying onerous loans, according to “Unfair and Unsafe.” The report cites a Fall 2007 Credit Suisse review that ranked Countrywide as one of the mortgage lenders least willing to adjust loan terms.
Countrywide says it is committed to working out fair arrangements to keep homeowners in their houses. In December, it entered into an arrangement with the community group ACORN designed to help subprime borrowers.
“During the first 11 months of 2007, Countrywide helped more than 69,000 customers retain their homes through solutions such as loan modifications, long-term repayment plans, special forbearance and other options,” says Steve Bailey, a Countrywide senior managing director of loan administration. “Regardless of the reason for the payment difficulties, Countrywide wants to try to find reasonable solutions for our borrowers.”
Abusive loan servicing.
Borrowers claim that Countrywide has engaged in sloppy and fraudulent loan servicing that has produced unwarranted fees and foreclosures.
With the collapse of the housing market in 2007, Countrywide’s fortunes turned, its mortgage-backed securities plummeted in value, and the company seemed on the edge of bankruptcy. In January 2008, Bank of America agreed to buy the company.
Do not weep for company co-founder and long-time CEO Angelo Mozilo, however. Mozilo grabbed compensation worth $185 million from 2002-2006, according to an analysis by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Between November 2006 and December 2007, Mozilo sold $150 million in stock – effectively jumping from a sinking corporate ship for which he was supposedly at the helm, or at least on the captain’s deck.
“Particularly, the discrepancy between Mr. Mozilo’s compensation and Countrywide’s performance is striking,” concludes the Oversight Committee analysis. “In 2007, Countrywide announced a $1.2 billion loss in the third quarter and an additional loss of $422 million in the fourth quarter.” By the end of the year, the company’s stock fell 80 percent from its February peak. “During the same period, Mr. Mozilo was paid $1.9 million in salary, received $20 million in stock awards contingent upon performance, and sold $121 million in stock.”
Mozilo retired as CEO in 2006, remaining as company chair and an employee. The House Oversight Committee analysis shows that his compensation contract, taking effect in 2007, was outrageous, and based in part on recommendations from a compensation consultant loyal to Mozilo rather than Countrywide.
Even so, Mozilo was bitter that the company did not give him everything he wanted. In an e-mail message turned up by the Oversight Committee, Mozilo wrote to the compensation consultant:
“I appreciate your input but at this stage in my life at Countrywide this process is no longer about money but more about respect and acknowledgement of my accomplishments. … Boards have been placed under enormous pressure by the left wing anti business press and the envious leaders of unions and other so called ‘CEO Comp Watchers’ and therefore Boards are being forced to protect themselves irrespective of the potential negative long term impact on public companies. I strongly believe that a decade from now there will be a recognition that entrepreneurship has been driven out of the public sector resulting in underperforming companies and a willingness on the part of Boards to pay for performance.”
With attention focused on the discrepancy between Mozilo’s compensation package and Countrywide’s well-being, he waived various payments – totaling $37.5 million – he could have received once Bank of America finalizes its takeover.
In March 2008, Mozilo appeared before the House Oversight Committee to explain his compensation.
“Countrywide’s board,” he testified, “has aligned the interests of our top executives, including me, with shareholders by making our compensation primarily performance-based – namely, tied to earnings per share and share price appreciation. Since 1982 through early 2007, Countrywide’s stock appreciated over 23,000 percent, reaching a peak market value of over $25 billion from a starting value of zero. As a result, over recent years, I have received substantial income from bonuses under a formula that was approved by our shareholders on at least two occasions.”
He also received substantial stock options, explaining, these were “options that required the price of the stock to rise above the option price before any income could be realized, thereby aligning me squarely with our shareholders.” In anticipation of his retirement, he testified, he put in place a plan to cash in some stock options earned in earlier years. His sales were thus planned in advance of Countrywide’s downturn. But he continues to hold substantial shares in Countrywide – shares worth much less than before the company’s stock collapsed.
Mozilo testified that he is “very proud of the home ownership opportunities that Countrywide has provided for over 20 million families,” while acknowledging the hardship faced by homeowners and Countrywide employees and shareholders.
“In my 55 years in the industry,” he said, “this by far is the worst housing crisis I have ever seen, combined with an unprecedented collapse of the credit and liquidity markets.”
“The problem we face,” he said, “is the deterioration of the value of homes. As values were going up, we had no problem. We had no delinquencies and no foreclosures, because people had options, because people run into three things in their lives generally – loss of job, loss of marriage, loss of health. When that happens and they own a home, and it impacts their income, they generally have a way out – sell the house, refinance, do something.
“That equity that they have in their homes has been virtually wiped out. And that’s what’s exacerbating this whole foreclosure problem.”
Wasn’t that problem entirely foreseeable? Didn’t Countrywide’s lending policies – which generously might be called aggressive – depend on constantly rising housing values in what was obviously a bubble market?
In Paper War, Flood of Liens Is the Weapon
August 23, 2013
by Erica Goode
New York Times
MINNEAPOLIS — One of the first inklings Sheriff Richard Stanek had that something was wrong came with a call from the mortgage company handling his refinancing.
“It must be a mistake,” he said, when the loan officer told him that someone had placed liens totaling more than $25 million on his house and on other properties he owned.
But as Sheriff Stanek soon learned, the liens, legal claims on property to secure the payment of a debt, were just the earliest salvos in a war of paper, waged by a couple who had lost their home to foreclosure in 2009 — a tactic that, with the spread of an anti-government ideology known as the “sovereign citizen” movement, is being employed more frequently as a way to retaliate against perceived injustices.
Over the next three years, the couple, Thomas and Lisa Eilertson, filed more than $250 billion in liens, demands for compensatory damages and other claims against more than a dozen people, including the sheriff, county attorneys, the Hennepin County registrar of titles and other court officials.
“It affects your credit rating, it affected my wife, it affected my children,” Sheriff Stanek said of the liens. “We spent countless hours trying to undo it.”
Cases involving sovereign citizens are surfacing increasingly here in Minnesota and in other states, posing a challenge to law enforcement officers and court officials, who often become aware of the movement — a loose network of groups and individuals who do not recognize the authority of federal, state or municipal government — only when they become targets. Although the filing of liens for outrageous sums or other seemingly frivolous claims might appear laughable, dealing with them can be nightmarish, so much so that the F.B.I. has labeled the strategy “paper terrorism.” A lien can be filed by anyone under the Uniform Commercial Code.
Occasionally, people who identify with the movement have erupted into violence. In Las Vegas this week, the police said that an undercover sting operation stopped a plot to torture and kill police officers in order to bring attention to the movement. Two people were arrested. In 2010, two police officers in Arkansas were killed while conducting a traffic stop with a father and son involved in the movement.
Mostly, though, sovereign citizens choose paper as their weapon. In Gadsden, Ala., three people were arrested in July for filing liens against victims including the local district attorney and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. And in Illinois this month, a woman who, like most sovereign citizens, chose to represent herself in court, confounded a federal judge by asking him to rule on a flurry of unintelligible motions.
“I hesitate to rank your statements in order of just how bizarre they are,” the judge told the woman, who was facing charges of filing billions of dollars in false liens.
“The convergence of the evidence strongly suggests a movement that is flourishing,” said Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League. “It is present in every single state in the country.”
The sovereign citizen movement traces its roots to white extremist groups like the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s, and the militia movement. Terry L. Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombing conspirator, counted himself a sovereign citizen. But in recent years it has drawn from a much wider demographic, including blacks, members of Moorish sects and young Occupy protesters, said Detective Moe Greenberg of the Baltimore County Police Department, who has written about the movement.
The ideology seems to attract con artists, the financially desperate and people who are fed up with bureaucracy, Mr. Pitcavage said, adding, “But we’ve seen airline pilots, we’ve seen federal law enforcement officers, we’ve seen city councilmen and millionaires get involved with this movement.”
Sovereign citizens believe that in the 1800s, the federal government was gradually subverted and replaced by an illegitimate government. They create their own driver’s licenses and include their thumbprints on documents to distinguish their flesh and blood person from a “straw man” persona that they say has been created by the false government. When writing their names, they often add punctuation marks like colons or hyphens.
Adherents to the movement have been involved in a host of debt evasion schemes and mortgage and tax frauds. Two were convicted in Cleveland recently for collecting $8 million in fraudulent tax refunds from the I.R.S. And in March, Tim Turner, the leader of one large group, the Republic for the united States of America, was sentenced in Alabama to 18 years in federal prison. (His group does not capitalize the first letter in united.)
Sovereign citizens who file creditor claims are helped by the fact that in most states, the secretary of state must accept any lien that is filed without judging its validity.
The National Association of Secretaries of State released a report in April on sovereign citizens, urging state officials to find ways to expedite the removal of liens and increase penalties for fraudulent filings. More than a dozen states have enacted laws giving state filing offices more discretion in accepting liens, and an increasing number of states have passed or are considering legislation to toughen the penalties for bogus filings.
The Eilertsons, who were charged with 47 counts of fraudulent filing and sentenced in June to 23 months in prison, were prosecuted under a Minnesota law that makes it a felony to file fraudulent documents to retaliate against officials. John Ristad, an assistant Ramsey County attorney who handled the case, said he believed the Eilertsons were the first offenders to be prosecuted under the law. “It got me angry,” he said, “because at the end of the day, these two are bullies who think they can get their way by filing paper.”
The liens were filed against houses, vehicles and even mineral rights. In an affadavit, the Hennepin County examiner of titles said that in a conversation with the Eilertsons about their foreclosure, one of them told her, “We’re gonna have to lien ya.” The examiner later found that a lien for more than $5.1 million had been placed on her property.
If the purpose was to instill trepidation, it worked. Several county and state officials said in interviews that they worried that they might once again find themselves in the crosshairs. One state employee said it was scarier to engage with offenders who used sovereign citizen tactics than with murderers, given the prospect of facing lawsuits or fouled credit ratings.
Like many who identify with the ideology, the Eilertsons learned the techniques of document filing online from one of many sovereign citizen “gurus” who offer instruction or seminars around the country.
In hours of recorded conversation found by the authorities on their computer, the Eilertsons consulted with a man identified on the recordings as Paul Kappel, learning what he called “death by a thousand paper cuts.”
Mr. Eilertson, interviewed at the state prison in Bayport, Minn., denied being anti-government or belonging to any movement. But he was familiar with the names of some figures associated with sovereign citizen teachings, including an activist named David Wynn Miller, who Mr. Eilertson said was “ahead of his time.” (Mr. Miller writes his name as David-Wynn: Miller.)
Mr. Eilertson, who had no previous criminal record, said his actions were an effort to fight back against corrupt banks that had handed off the couple’s mortgage time after time and whose top executives never faced consequences for their actions.
“It seemed like we were being attacked every day,” he said. “We needed some way to stop the foreclosure.
“We tried to do our part with as much information as we had available,” he said, though he conceded that “it kind of got out of control eventually.”
The NSA is losing the benefit of the doubt
By Ruth Marcus, Published: August 22, 2013
Footnote 14 should scare every American. Even the parts that aren’t blacked out.
The footnote is contained in the just-declassified 2011 opinion by U.S. District Judge John Bates, then the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In the ruling, Bates found that the government had been sweeping up e-mails before receiving court approval in 2008 and, even after that, was illegally collecting “tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications.”
That’s not the really scary part. This is: “The court is troubled that the government’s revelations . . . mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program,” Bates wrote in Footnote 14.
He cited a 2009 finding that the court’s approval of the National Security Agency’s telephone records program was premised on “a flawed depiction” of how the NSA uses metadata, a “misperception . . . buttressed by repeated inaccurate statements made in the government’s submissions, and despite a government-devised and Court-mandated oversight regime.
“Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the required standard for querying. The Court concluded that this requirement had been ‘so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall . . . regime has never functioned effectively.’ ”
Followed by two full paragraphs of redactions. We can only imagine what that episode entailed.
To judge the significance of Bates’s footnote, it helps to know something about the judge. This is no wild-eyed liberal. Bates spent almost two decades in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington. He served as deputy to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the investigation of President Bill Clinton. He was named to the bench by President George W. Bush.
If Bates is worked up about being misled by the government — and the sober language of that footnote is the judicial version of a severe dressing-down — people should listen.
Security demands secrecy. The Constitution demands that secrecy be coupled with oversight. In theory, that oversight is twofold, from Congress and the judiciary, through the mechanism of the surveillance court.
In practice, oversight necessarily depends on some measure of good will from the overseen. No matter how well-intentioned and diligent the overseers, particularly in an area as technologically murky and politically fraught as surveillance, the intelligence experts tend to hold the cards.
Their deeply ingrained institutional bias is to reveal only what is absolutely necessary, to trust their secrets and secret methods to as few outsiders as possible. When that instinct for secrecy edges into a willingness to mislead, tacitly or explicitly, effective oversight collapses.
We have already seen this phenomenon on display before Congress, in the person of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. In March, Sen. Ron Wyden asked Clapper whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s answer, “No . . . not wittingly.”
This was, as Clapper acknowledged, “clearly erroneous.” His belated apology rings hollow. Clapper was not only forewarned about the question, he refused to correct his misrepresentation for months, until it was proved false.
His subsequent explanations for responding in the “least untruthful manner” are unconvincing and contradictory: He had a different understanding, perhaps “too cute by half,” of “collect” — he thought the Oregon Democrat was asking about the contents of phone records, not simply archiving them. Actually, Clapper wasn’t thinking of telephone records at all; he thought Wyden was referring to the separate program to intercept foreigners’ e-mail.
So when Clapper, in announcing the documents’ release, asserts that they demonstrate “the government’s serious commitment to getting it right,” he hauls along a mountain of baggage.
It is possible to construct a happier narrative. After all, Bates’s rebuke was prompted by the intelligence community’s own disclosures. The government then cleaned up its act, with court-approved procedures to minimize privacy invasions. Congress was informed of the program, the court’s problems with it and the fixes being made. The relevant documents were declassified and released (albeit in the face of a lawsuit). President Obama has proposed additional oversight mechanisms, such as building adversary procedures into the surveillance court.
These are hopeful signs, but they do not erase the ugly history: “repeated inaccurate statements” to the court, “clearly erroneous” congressional testimony. Current assurances, made under the duress of unauthorized disclosure, must be judged in light of past performance. An intelligence community consistently too cute by half ends up harming itself, along with the country it strives to protect.
Three Illusory “Investigations” of the NSA Spying Are Unable to Succeed
August 24, 2013
by Mark Jaycox
Since the revelations of confirmed National Security Agency spying in June, three different “investigations” have been announced. One by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), another by the Director of National Intelligence, Gen. James Clapper, and the third by the Senate Intelligence Committee, formally called the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
All three investigations are insufficient, because they are unable to find out the full details needed to stop the government’s abuse of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The PCLOB can only request—not require—documents from the NSA and must rely on its goodwill, while the investigation led by Gen. Clapper is led by a man who not only lied to Congress, but also oversees the spying. And the Senate Intelligence Committee—which was originally designed to effectively oversee the intelligence community—has failed time and time again. What’s needed is a new, independent, Congressional committee to fully delve into the spying.
The PCLOB: Powerless to Obtain Documents
The PCLOB was created after a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission to ensure civil liberties and privacy were included in the government’s surveillance and spying policies and practices.
But it languished. From 2008 until May of this year, the board was without a Chair and unable to hire staff or perform any work. It was only after the June revelations that the President asked the board to begin an investigation into the unconstituional NSA spying. Yet even with the full board constituted, it is unable to fulfill its mission as it has no choice but to base its analysis on a steady diet of carefully crafted statements from the intelligence community.
As we explained, the board must rely on the goodwill of the NSA’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, and Gen. Clapper—two men who have repeatedly said the NSA doesn’t collect information on Americans.
In order to conduct a full investigation, the PCLOB will need access to all relevant NSA, FBI, and DOJ files. But the PCLOB is unable to compel testimony or documents because Congress did not give it the same powers as a Congressional committee or independent agency. This is a major problem. If the NSA won’t hand over documents to Congress, then it will certainly not give them to the PCLOB.
The Clapper Investigation: Overseen by a Man Accused of Lying to Congress
The second investigation was announced by President Obama in a Friday afternoon news conference. The President called for the creation of an “independent” task force with “outside experts” to make sure “there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used.” Less than two days later, the White House followed up with a press release announcing the task force would be led by Gen. Clapper and would also report to him. What’s even worse: the task force was not tasked with looking at any abuse. It was told to focus on how to “protect our national security and advance our foreign policy.” And just this week, ABC News reported the task force will be full of thorough Washington insiders–not “outside experts.” For instance, one has advocated the Department of Homeland Security be allowed to scan all Internet traffic going in and out of the US. And another, while a noted legal scholar on regulatory issues, has written a paper about government campaigns to infiltrate online groups and activists. In one good act, the White House selected Peter Swire to be on the task force. Swire is a professor at Georgia Tech and has served as the White House’s first ever Chief Privacy Officer. Recently, he signed an amicus brief in a case against the NSA spying by the Electronic Privacy Information Center arguing that the NSA’s telephony metadata program is illegal under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Despite this, and at the end of a day, a task force led by General Clapper full of insiders,—and not directed to look at the extensive abuse—will never get at the bottom of the unconstitutional spying.
The Senate Intelligence Committee Has Already Failed
The last “investigation” occurring is a “review” led by the Senate Intelligence Committee overseeing the intelligence community. But time and time again the committee has failed at providing any semblance of oversight. First, the chair and ranking member of the committee, Senators Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Saxby Chambliss (GA), respectively, are stalwart defenders of the NSA and its spying activities. They have both justified the spying, brushed aside any complaints, and denied any ideas of abuse by the NSA.
Besides defending the intelligence community, the committee leadership have utterly failed in oversight—the reason why the Senate Intelligence Committee was originally created by the Church Committee. As was revealed last week, Senator Feinstein was not shown or even told about the thousands of violations of the spying programs in NSA audits of the programs. This is in direct contradiction to her statements louting the “robust” oversight of the Intelligence Committee. Lastly, the committee is prone to secrets and hiding behind closed doors: this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee has met publicly only twice. What’s clear is that the Intelligence Committee has been unable to carry out its oversight role and fresh eyes are needed to protect the American people from the abuses of the NSA.
A New Church Committee
All three of these investigations are destined to fail. What’s needed is a new, special, investigatory committee to look into the abuses of by the NSA, its use of spying powers, its legal justifications, and why the intelligence committees were unable to rein in the spying. In short, we need a contemporary Church Committee. It’s time for Congress to reassert its oversight capacity. The American public must be provided more information about the NSA’s unconstitutional actions and the NSA must be held accountable. Tell your Congressmen now to join the effort.
Google and the NSA: Who’s holding the ‘shit-bag’ now?
August 24th, 2013
by Julian Assange
It has been revealed today, thanks to Edward Snowden, that Google and other US tech companies received millions of dollars from the NSA for their compliance with the PRISM mass surveillance system.
So just how close is Google to the US securitocracy? Back in 2011 I had a meeting with Eric Schmidt, the then Chairman of Google, who came out to see me with three other people while I was under house arrest. You might suppose that coming to see me was gesture that he and the other big boys at Google were secretly on our side: that they support what we at WikiLeaks are struggling for: justice, government transparency, and privacy for individuals. But that would be a false supposition. Their agenda was much more complex, and as we found out, was inextricable from that of the US State Department. The full transcript of our meeting is available online through the WikiLeaks website.
The pretext for their visit was that Schmidt was then researching a new book, a banal tome which has since come out as The New Digital Age. My less than enthusiastic review of this book was published in the New York Times in late May of this year. On the back of that book are a series of pre-publication endorsements: Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Michael Hayden (former head of the CIA and NSA) and Tony Blair. Inside the book Henry Kissinger appears once again, this time given pride of place in the acknowledgements.
Schmidt’s book is not about communicating with the public. He is worth $6.1 billion and does not need to sell books. Rather, this book is a mechanism by which Google seeks to project itself into Washington. It shows Washington that Google can be its partner, its geopolitical visionary, who will help Washington see further about America’s interests. And by tying itself to the US state, Google thereby cements its own security, at the expense of all competitors.
Two months after my meeting with Eric Schmidt, WikiLeaks had a legal reason to call Hilary Clinton and to document that we were calling her. It’s interesting that if you call the front desk of the State Department and ask for Hillary Clinton, you can actually get pretty close, and we’ve become quite good at this. Anyone who has seen Doctor Strangelove may remember the fantastic scene when Peter Sellers calls the White House from a payphone on the army base and is put on hold as his call gradually moves through the levels. Well WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison, pretending to be my PA, put through our call to the State Department, and like Peter Sellers we started moving through the levels, and eventually we got up to Hillary Clinton’s senior legal advisor, who said that we would be called back.
Shortly afterwards another one of our people, WikiLeaks’ ambassador Joseph Farrell, received a call back, not from the State Department, but from Lisa Shields, the then girlfriend of Eric Schmidt, who does not formally work for the US State Department. So let’s reprise this situation: The Chairman of Google’s girlfriend was being used as a back channel for Hillary Clinton. This is illustrative. It shows that at this level of US society, as in other corporate states, it is all musical chairs.
That visit from Google while I was under house arrest was, as it turns out, an unofficial visit from the State Department. Just consider the people who accompanied Schmidt on that visit: his girlfriend Lisa Shields, Vice President for Communications at the CFR; Scott Malcolmson, former senior State Department advisor; and Jared Cohen, advisor to both Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, a kind of Generation Y Kissinger figure — a noisy Quiet American as the author Graham Greene might have put it.
Google started out as part of Californian graduate student culture around San Francisco’s Bay Area. But as Google grew it encountered the big bad world. It encountered barriers to its expansion in the form of complex political networks and foreign regulations. So it started doing what big bad American companies do, from Coca Cola to Northrop Grumman. It started leaning heavily on the State Department for support, and by doing so it entered into the Washington DC system. A recently released statistic shows that Google now spends even more money than Lockheed Martin on paid lobbyists in Washington.
Jared Cohen was the co-writer of Eric Schmidt’s book, and his role as the bridge between Google and the State Department speaks volumes about how the US securitocracy works. Cohen used to work directly for the State Department and was a close advisor to both Condolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. But since 2010 he has been Director of Google Ideas, its in-house ‘think/do’ tank.
Documents published last year by WikiLeaks obtained from the US intelligence contractor Stratfor, show that in 2011 Jared Cohen, then (as he is now) Director of Google Ideas, was off running secret missions to the edge of Iran in Azerbaijan. In these internal emails, Fred Burton, Stratfor’s Vice President for Intelligence and a former senior State Department official, describes Google as follows:
“Google is getting WH [White House] and State Dept support and air cover. In reality they are doing things the CIA cannot do…[Cohen] is going to get himself kidnapped or killed. Might be the best thing to happen to expose Google’s covert role in foaming up-risings, to be blunt. The US Gov’t can then disavow knowledge and Google is left holding the shit-bag”
In further internal communication, Burton subsequently clarifies his sources on Cohen’s activities as Marty Lev, Google’s director of security and safety and.. Eric Schmidt.
WikiLeaks cables also reveal that previously Cohen, when working for the State Department, was in Afghanistan trying to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto US military bases. In Lebanon he covertly worked to establish, on behalf of the State Department, an anti-Hezbollah Shia think tank. And in London? He was offering Bollywood film executives funds to insert anti-extremist content into Bollywood films and promising to connect them to related networks in Hollywood. That is the Director of Google Ideas. Cohen is effectively Google’s director of regime change. He is the State Department channeling Silicon Valley.
That Google was taking NSA money in exchange for handing over people’s data comes as no surprise. When Google encountered the big bad world, Google itself got big and bad.
The Real, Terrifying Reason Why British Authorities Detained David Miranda
The scariest explanation of all? That the NSA and GCHQ are just showing they don’t want to be messed with.
Aug 22 2013,
Last Sunday, David Miranda was detained while changing planes at London Heathrow Airport by British authorities for nine hours under a controversial British law — the maximum time allowable without making an arrest. There has been much made of the fact that he’s the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter whom Edward Snowden trusted with many of his NSA documents and the most prolific reporter of the surveillance abuses disclosed in those documents. There’s less discussion of what I feel was the real reason for Miranda’s detention. He was ferrying documents between Greenwald and Laura Poitras, a filmmaker and his co-reporter on Snowden and his information. These document were on several USB memory sticks he had with him. He had already carried documents from Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro to Poitras in Berlin, and was on his way back with different documents when he was detained.
The memory sticks were encrypted, of course, and Miranda did not know the key. This didn’t stop the British authorities from repeatedly asking for the key, and from confiscating the memory sticks along with his other electronics.
The incident prompted a major outcry in the U.K. The U.K.’s Terrorist Act has always been controversial, and this clear misuse — it was intended to give authorities the right to detain and question suspected terrorists — is prompting new calls for its review. Certainly the U.K. police will be more reluctant to misuse the law again in this manner.
I have to admit this story has me puzzled. Why would the British do something like this? What did they hope to gain, and why did they think it worth the cost? And — of course — were the British acting on their own under the Official Secrets Act, or were they acting on behalf of the United States? (My initial assumption was that they were acting on behalf of the U.S., but after the bizarre story of the British GCHQ demanding the destruction of Guardian computers last month, I’m not sure anymore.)
We do know the British were waiting for Miranda. It’s reasonable to assume they knew his itinerary, and had good reason to suspect that he was ferrying documents back and forth between Greenwald and Poitras. These documents could be source documents provided by Snowden, new documents that the two were working on either separately or together, or both. That being said, it’s inconceivable that the memory sticks would contain the only copies of these documents. Poitras retained copies of everything she gave Miranda. So the British authorities couldn’t possibly destroy the documents; the best they could hope for is that they would be able to read them.
Is it truly possible that the NSA doesn’t already know what Snowden has? They claim they don’t, but after Snowden’s name became public, the NSA would have conducted the mother of all audits. It would try to figure out what computer systems Snowden had access to, and therefore what documents he could have accessed. Hopefully, the audit information would give more detail, such as which documents he downloaded. I have a hard time believing that its internal auditing systems would be so bad that it wouldn’t be able to discover this.
So if the NSA knows what Snowden has, or what he could have, then the most it could learn from the USB sticks is what Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on, or thinking about working on. But presumably the things the two of them are working on are the things they’re going to publish next. Did the intelligence agencies really do all this simply for a few weeks’ heads-up on what was coming? Given how ham-handedly the NSA has handled PR as each document was exposed, it seems implausible that it wanted advance knowledge so it could work on a response. It’s been two months since the first Snowden revelation, and it still doesn’t have a decent PR story.
Furthermore, the U.K. authorities must have known that the data would be encrypted. Greenwald might have been a crypto newbie at the start of the Snowden affair, but Poitras is known to be good at security. The two have been communicating securely by e-mail when they do communicate. Maybe the U.K. authorities thought there was a good chance that one of them would make a security mistake, or that Miranda would be carrying paper documents.
Another possibility is that this was just intimidation. If so, it’s misguided. Anyone who regularly reads Greenwald could have told them that he would not have been intimidated — and, in fact, he expressed the exact opposite sentiment — and anyone who follows Poitras knows that she is even more strident in her views. Going after the loved ones of state enemies is a typically thuggish tactic, but it’s not a very good one in this case. The Snowden documents will get released. There’s no way to put this cat back in the bag, not even by killing the principal players.
It could possibly have been intended to intimidate others who are helping Greenwald and Poitras, or the Guardian and its advertisers. This will have some effect. Lavabit, Silent Circle, and now Groklaw have all been successfully intimidated. Certainly others have as well. But public opinion is shifting against the intelligence community. I don’t think it will intimidate future whistleblowers. If the treatment of Bradley Manning didn’t discourage them, nothing will.
This leaves one last possible explanation — those in power were angry and impulsively acted on that anger. They’re lashing out: sending a message and demonstrating that they’re not to be messed with — that the normal rules of polite conduct don’t apply to people who screw with them. That’s probably the scariest explanation of all. Both the U.S. and U.K. intelligence apparatuses have enormous money and power, and they have already demonstrated that they are willing to ignore their own laws. Once they start wielding that power unthinkingly, it could get really bad for everyone.
And it’s not going to be good for them, either. They seem to want Snowden so badly that that they’ll burn the world down to get him. But every time they act impulsively aggressive — convincing the governments of Portugal and France to block the plane carrying the Bolivian president because they thought Snowden was on it is another example — they lose a small amount of moral authority around the world, and some ability to act in the same way again. The more pressure Snowden feels, the more likely he is to give up on releasing the documents slowly and responsibly, and publish all of them at once — the same way that WikiLeaks published the U.S. State Department cables.
Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported on some new NSA secret programs that are spying on Americans. It got the information from “interviews with current and former intelligence and government officials and people from companies that help build or operate the systems, or provide data,” not from Snowden. This is only the beginning. The media will not be intimidated. I will not be intimidated. But it scares me that the NSA is so blind that it doesn’t see it.
Nevada pair ‘plotted to torture and kill police’
A Nevada pair has appeared in court accused of plotting to abduct, torture and kill police to promote their anti-government movement.
August 23, 2013
David Allen Brutsche, 42, and Devon Campbell Newman, 67, told a Las Vegas judge they did not recognise his authority to keep them in jail.
The roommates were arrested earlier this week after a sting operation.
Police say an undercover officer spent four months with the pair monitoring their alleged “sovereign citizen” plot.
There are 300,000 followers of the sovereign citizen anti-government philosophy around the US, according to a non-profit civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The two suspects shopped for guns, found a vacant house and set it up to bind and interrogate captives, according to the authorities.
They also allegedly recorded videos to justify their murder plot against police officers.
The investigation began when an undercover officer befriended the two accused in April, said police.
Las Vegas police Lt James Seebock told reporters the plot had been a case of domestic terrorism.
“They were furthering their ‘sovereign citizen’ ideology by committing criminal acts toward law enforcement,” Lt Seebock said.
“The suspects believed that once the first kidnapping and execution was accomplished, they would be compelled to keep repeating their actions, kidnapping and killing multiple officers.”
The judge sent them back to jail pending a court hearing on 9 September.